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Packing With Kids

When will we be there? I'm hungry! I need to go to the bathroom! My feet hurt! This song has been sung from many a back seat, on many a trail, from coach and first class alike. Those of you who travel with children know that it is they who provide the true adventure regardless of where you actually go. So would you dare to take them on an a multi-day jaunt into the wilderness? The answer is a resounding yes but with a few helpful pointers, a few words of caution, and a few exercises for your patience level.

I have never been a great fan of the Holiday Inn. Strapping on a pack with everything I need for the next two weeks is far more my style. To add the the adventure of it all I usually decide to vacation somewhere between two weeks and two hours before I actually leave. Family and friends who find my vacation planning habits agitating at best and down right scary at worst, assumed I'd change once my first child arrived. They actually believed I'd traden in my hikingboots for a pair of sandles or running shoes. They were sadly mistaken. They then assumed that this would end as the children got older and actually had a choice, or at least could voice a protest. Again the were wrong. Our house is not a democracy and I've brainwashed the children into actually liking our unique form of travel. However, I have had to adapted somewhat. I must emphasize somewhat, because in truth, it only means I hike a few miles less in a day, carry a little more weight in my pack, and always bring a jar of peanut butter!

Before the kids could walk on their own the baby backpack was the greatest invention known to woman. One with a carrying case attached allows for cloth diapers, a face cloth, two bottles of premixed formula, and a rattle. I want to make particular note of the "cloth diapers." You only have to carry half as many, they can be washed, hung out to dry, and used again, and they're wonderful for the environment! Besides, packing out a week's worth of used disposables iw a fate worth than death! The rattles are for when we stop on a trail and at night but NEVER FOR WHEN WALKING. I am not a fan of "fetch" and after a few short minutes you will find yourself bending over with a full pack every few minutes to pick up what quickly becomes more fun to pitch in all directions than to shake. Along the trail, the scenery is ever-changing and will more than keep a baby occupied. When all else fails, collect a stick and let them chew. A little tree bark never hurt anyone. We also sing... Anything and everything. Usually, there's no one to hear and judge tonality but the odd bird or squirrel.

As soon the children could walk, they walked. A good judge for how far they can walk is to double their age in kilometers per day after the age of 3. Keep in mind that even though this sounds very low it will take all day to cove this territory. They should also carry their own day pack with contents weighing their age until the age of 6. Then quarter their weight. At two, my daughter carried a book, her blanket, her toiletries, a stuffed friend for the tent, crayons, pajamas, spoon, and tin mug. My son at 6 carried most all of his things (including clothes and eating utensils). Even when we're just traveling, both children ALWAYS carry their own day packs; it gives them a sense of responsibility and teaches them early that not everything can or should go with. It only takes one too-heavy pack before a child decides that the seventh book and the sixth Tonka truck wasn't really necessary! Of course, in order to run this point across, it is imperative to insist that he or she carry the too-heavy pack. If you relieve them of it at the first whimper be prepared to do it every time! By the time the child is 12 or 13 they should not only be carrieng ALL of their own gear but a portion of the group gear as well.

Small children LOVE tents; A tent means safety; The wilderness can be scary at night. With this in mind, it stands to reason that most children will stay in the tent while you sleep. This is not ALWAYS the case. I had one of each. I recommend a death threat given before bed time: "You will stay in the tent. You will wake me when you wake! If you do not and you leave the tent a hungry bear might eat you!" Though most child psychologists will frown on this statement, it is certainly a possibility!!!!!! Besides, I received this lecture and it didn't damage my psyche and my children don't look the worse for it. It also got us, on more than one occasion, into a great discussion on the types of bears. As a fallback, it's always a good idea to position an adult's sleeping bag in front of the door so that the truely fearless child must actually crawl over him or her to get out of the tent.

The two most important items to remember are to have LOTS of water and lots of trail mix. Kids dehydrate quickly and use energy faster than adults. You may find them constantly snacking as they walk. You also need to stop more frequently. A die hard attitude is fine, but if your children hate it your life will be miserable and your trip ruined. That said, I do believe that if you walk up, you must walk down. When my son was 3, he wanted to climb to the top of Vail Mountain, in Colorado. His Grandpa and my husband took him. However, because he spent so much energy playing on the way to the top (that was the fun part) he wanted to be carried down. The answer was a resounding "NO!" He proceeded to throw a temper tantrum and stated that he would sit in the mud if they would not carry him! Needless to say, he was not carried, he did sit in the mud, and he walked down in muddy wet britches. He has never asked to be carried again and we have hiked many trails since.

I recommending starting slow. Try stationary camping in a tent, not a trailer or camper! Plan a location not too far away from home when the weather will be nice. Most camp grounds have fire pits where you can cook over an open flame and roast marshmallows. They also have showers and bathrooms where one parent can hide for 15 minutes of peace and quiet while the other runs the show. You can take short hikes on nearby trails for practice. When you do decide to head into the wilderness, start with a long weekend and only plan on a distance of double your youngest child's age per day. (If you have a two year-old and will be gone 3 days - expect to cover at most 6 kilometers.) Try your early outings in weather that's not too hot or to cold. ALWAYS bring twice as much bug spray as you could possible imagine needing! Work your way up to a week or more on the trail. Let your child's curiosity of nature release your own. Remember what it was like to find the simplest things funny and fascinating; a red spotted caterpillar, an odd shaped leaf. Adventure travel with your children adds an extra element that those without children will never know or enjoy.

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